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Baby rabbits in nest. (Photo by Karen Foreman; from the National Wildlife Federation.)

A late Saturday afternoon in the suburbs at our daughter and son-in-law’s house, in the backyard with two granddaughters and three dogs, tossing a half-deflated volleyball around (the six-year-old thrashing it wildly), birds chirping, sun beaming, tree branches waggling in the breeze … An American idyll, especially with cold beer on hand. Our dog Fergus, the beagle mix who presides over this blog, plays his favorite game of pretending to dig a hole in the lawn so that we have to chase him away from it, which leads him to dash to another spot and pretend to dig there …

Then a ferocious barking as a neighbor couple and their terrier walk by on the sidewalk. The three dogs in the yard rush through the perimeter of trees and bushes to guard the chain-link fence. The girls run over to talk to the neighbors. Eventually the animals inside realize the one outside is harmless, and Fergus exchanges a snuff through the fence with his terrier counterpart.

But as Fergus strolls away, he steps over a shallow nest hidden in the spotty ground cover around the trees. Nose alerted, he digs in, and suddenly baby rabbits are scrambling in three directions. The girls run after one rabbit. Fergus keeps his nose in the nest, jaw working, until I pull him away.

Last year, when he found a nest in the front yard and emerged with a baby in his mouth, the girls and parents tried to nurse it back to health, unsuccessfully. After a day they buried it with appropriate ceremony. Ever since, Fergus has been watched carefully when he visits Rabbitville.

Yet, once more, he was too quick for us. With the advice of—what else?—Google, we knew this time to leave the babies alone and let the mother find them. In a couple of minutes she duly appeared, hopping with caution across the yard while Fergus hyperventilated in my grip. In the end it appeared that all the bunnies were alive, though one was injured.

The nine-year-old called Ferg’s behavior “evil.” We had to explain that he can’t be blamed because it’s his instinct to catch rabbits, his basic nature. Eventually the girls did accept this.

Yet any quick excuse of that sort makes me question why we reproach humans but not animals. Consider Donald Trump: Isn’t it his nature to get up early in the morning and bark ferociously, via Twitter, in defense of his territory? Isn’t it basic instinct that leads him to keep suspicious foreigners out of his yard? What about amassing great wealth while denying health care to millions—isn’t that like Fergus refusing to share his extra treats after dinner?

True, humans are supposed to have reason and some degree of free will, making them accountable for their behavior. But the more we learn about animals, the more credit they get for having thought, some form of language and a surprising amount of psychological insight. Even plants exchange chemical signals, science tells us. So can we still insist that humans are ethically different?

Whenever I read moral philosophy, its principles seem nice enough but founded on air. Only determinism makes sense to me. While hoping there’s more to our behavior than electrochemical impulses—and contending we should always behave as if there is—I lack faith in a larger paradigm.

Still, still … I do hold Trump more responsible than Fergus. Logic be damned—the guy’s an ass.

Or, at least, if he’s as driven by instinct as a dog, I’d like to believe in the same ultimate recourse. When a pet proves dangerous and incorrigible, we take him to the vet—for a needle.

Don’t worry, Ferg, no such fate for you.

#NFLDraft Closeup

April 29, 2017

The new function of Fairmount “Park”

More observations on the #NFLDraft Experience, which I have the privilege of viewing up close without leaving my front step. In the following notes I’ll try to be as unbiased and truthful as possible. This morning my wife took a potting class at a garden center and failed to bring home any pot, so you know I’m totally unmedicated and clear-headed as I write.

  • Around 9 a.m. about 75 police swarmed our neighborhood’s famous gilded Joan of Arc statue. It was interesting to see these beefy guys in blue surrounding slim little Joanie on her horse. She campaigned to protect a country and a prince that she loved from foreign invaders. Our cops are out there to protect NFL multimillionaires from their fans and the fans from themselves.
  • I never realized that choosing up players for teams required so many speeding black SUVs and siren-blaring motorcycle escorts. Back in junior high it was much simpler. The team captain just pointed and you stepped over next to him. I fondly remember the day I wasn’t the very last one picked.
  • The uniform for an NFL fan is a jersey with someone else’s name on it. The psychology is a little hard for me to understand. I mean, yes, you show allegiance to your favorite player, but at the cost of submerging your own identity? If I were going to wear a jersey with someone else’s name, I wouldn’t settle for any old All-Star runner or passer or tackler. I’d want to honor a rapist, girlfriend beater or dog torturer. Luckily there are plenty of those to choose from.
  • Despite the huge traffic jams clogging our streets, not many horns are blowing. This proves that most of the drivers are from out of town.
  • A traffic jam is actually entertaining to watch when you’re not in a car. Poor schlubs, hee-hee-hee. As long as no one has a heart attack.
  • People have been engaging in loud arguments on the sidewalk in front of my house, in the middle of the day. This, too, proves they’re from out of town. Philadelphians would wait till midnight.
  • Not even locals realized the iconic stature of our Art Museum. Because the mammoth stage constructed for the draft blocks the view of the Museum’s noble columns, the stage incorporates fake columns made of foam. Don’t believe that? Read about it here and here.
  • Realizing that exactly none of the estimated $80 million generated by this event will go to our impoverished, traumatized public schools, neighbors have brainstormed other fundraising options. For instance, what about the magnificent Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the boulevard leading up to the Art Museum that all these outsiders love to appropriate for mega-events? Noting that Franklin has done little for us lately, we’re proposing to sell re-naming rights to the street, all proceeds going to the schools. Corporations, think of this: with every televised event your name would be mentioned hundreds of times. We already have Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field, so how about the Comcast Parkway? The McDonalds Mile? The Oprah Oval? Applicants, please write to Mayor Jim Kenney, and attach an appropriate political contribution.

 

Here in Poland, formerly known as the Art Museum neighborhood of Philadelphia, we are proud to welcome the NFL Draft Experience Extravapalooza. One in a long series of events that bring us hundreds of thousands of visitors and, in this case, the largest temporary stage ever seen in the city and perhaps the galaxy, this celebration promises days of enjoyment for all.

Already, in the run-up to the event, we’ve savored the following benefits:

  • Hundreds of convenient porta-potties installed around the neighborhood
  • Closure of major traffic arteries, offering the opportunity to sit meditatively behind the wheel and view the sights of our city through clouds of exhaust
  • Attractive military-style trailers and vehicles lining the streets
  • Outside security staff warning locals not to walk their dogs in the area
  • The sweet thrash and blare of helicopters cruising overhead
  • As shown in the picture, the locking of mailboxes, to defend us both from terrorists who hate football and from drunken fans who can’t distinguish a mailbox from a trash can

Some grumps—and I admit to knowing a few—have begun complaining about the frequency with which our neighborhood is rented out to private organizations that want to capitalize on the iconic Parkway and Rocky Steps. But we’re getting an estimated $80 million for this deal!—money that the city, still in many ways the most impoverished in the nation, desperately needs. With this influx of funds, we’ll be able to raise the salaries of our corporate leaders who live in the suburbs, bolster the political clout and intimidation power of union heads like our famous Johnny Doc, and ensure that agencies like our Parking Authority and Housing Authority—national models of featherbedding and corruption—continue their good work.

That is why the residents of our neighborhood have formally agreed to rename the area Poland, in honor of the frequent invasions from outside our borders. The entire city, in fact, has temporarily relabeled itself, as shown by this newspaper headline:

Most amazingly, the fuddy-duddies at the Art Museum, those conservative upper-crusters who have long sneered at the Rocky statue as a mere movie prop and lamented the sacrifice of the Museum steps for TV ratings, are now finally getting with the program. At a recent meeting, the Board of Trustees voted to allow the sale of naming rights for iconic objects in the Museum collections. The first such treasure, formerly known as Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, has now been unveiled in the main lobby with its new corporate moniker:

Trump Hotels® Luxury Visitor Accommodation

In an unexpected development, The News from Gridleyville has been named an official outlet for TrikiLeaks, the supernal hacker group. We are greatly honored by this distinction, and we promise to exercise our responsibilities responsibly.

As you may know, TrikiLeaks specializes in secret documents involving Higher Powers, in particular communications sent through s-mail, the spiritual equivalent of e-mail. The instance presented here is a recent message between foreign ministers of the eternal kingdoms: Beelzebub, the secretary of state for The Depths, writing to Archangel Michael, his counterpart in The Lofts. The two grew up together before Bubbie, as he was known in his youth, joined the Dark One in rebellion against the Universal Authority. Their long friendship presumably accounts for the chummy tone of the missive.

We publish this now, not in an attempt to influence the U.S. presidential election, but as a possible means of allaying the world’s heartburn.

To: His Lightness Arch. Michael

From: His Darkness Beelzebub

Subject: A Little Favor?

Yo, Mikey,

It’s been ages, I know, I been meaning to write, but we been awful busy down here. The crowds you send us get kind of rambunctious sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t complaining, it’s so much fun torturing these ass-monkeys it don’t hardly seem like a job, but it’s an organizational nightmare, if you get my drift. Gotta keep track of who’s been waterboarded, who’s been burned on the eyeball with the Boss’s cigars, who’s had fingernails or toenails yanked, etc. etc. We’re still using these old Power Macs that’ve never been upgraded. When I heard that Steve Jobs geek was comin’, I thought he’d bring some newer gizmos, but your boys in the Property Department musta stripped him on the way. You better check for sticky fingers up there. Just sayin’.

Anyways, geeks like Jobs ain’t the problem, they just walk around twiddling with their thumbs. It’s the other types of sinners that get bored and restless. See, the whole principle of torture—I figure you’re too high-minded to think about this stuff, so I’ll explain it to you—is you gotta give the bums a break between times. If it’s all pain all the time, they get burnt out, their minds blown, their ghostbodies wasted, so when you give ’em another, say, electric zap to the privates, they hardly notice. Which is no fun for us. So the point is, let ’em have a decent life when we aren’t working ’em over, enough that when we grab ’em up for the next session, they get the shakes and the terrors and start pissin’ their ghostpants all over again.

Now, them Lethe waters are a big help, making them forget what they been through. In fact, we’ve been mixing Lethe drops into the waterboarding, so every round’s like a fresh torture ’cause the poor suckers don’t remember what’s coming.

Still, when it’s time for their R&R, we gotta keep ’em amused. Which is hard because they ain’t allowed their former enjoyments like murder, embezzlement, fornication or political campaigns. So what do we have for their entertainment? Mostly old TV shows—and your Big Guy won’t let us have the good ones, will He? No, we gotta make do with trash like Jerry Springer, Jay Leno and Hee Haw Honeys. The ladies down here, even lots of the guys, would kill for one episode of Mary Tyler Moore. True, our audience is pretty cynical, so they get into the so-bad-it’s-hilarious shtick, but that wears thin after a while. They get mopey and grouchy, which is not the right buildup for their next turn in the Iron Maiden. As I said, they should be happy, at least content, before we work ’em over again.

So what I’m writin’ to ask, and I know you’ll wanta help me with this, pal, is maybe havin’ a top entertainer come down to us a little early. No, I don’t mean Madonna, I know the Big Guy’s got a crush on her. (Which I don’t understand. I mean, really?)

What I’m talkin’ about is that Trump dude. You know we’re gettin’ him sooner or later, and if you can make it a little sooner, I’d really appreciate it, ’cause we’ve made some great plans for him.

It’s a show called Devil’s Apprentice. He’s gonna be the host, see, along with one of my cute little acolytes—you know, the one with the honkers? He’ll love her.

Here’s the bit: Contestants will think they’re competing for a full-time job managing the Grue Crew, our pitchfork guys that stab unsuspecting people in the ass and toss ’em in the pit for their next torment. Our huge TV audience will see the apprentices run around like crazy and bust their tails to please The Donald and then get fired anyway. But then the kicker is, at the end of the show, all the ones he’s fired will get to use their pitchforks on The Donald himself.

They’ll plunk him in the pit for a special persecution—watching hours and hours of documentaries—of Hillary’s whole career!

We’ll televise that too, to show him making faces and spitting insults at the screen. Then we’ll give everybody some Lethe drops and start over with a new season.

Ain’t that genius? Talk about entertainment—our restless masses will love it!

So think about it, will you Mikey? I mean, Trump’s already old and fat, it’s not like I’m askin’ for a major speedup. Just a little before his time, so to speak.

If you need to clear this with the Big Guy, give him my best, wouldya? Him and my Boss really oughta get together sometime, clear the air, y’know, discuss new ways to cooperate in this business of processing souls.

Okay, Mikey, gotta sign off now and go sharpen my pitchfork, heh-heh.

Keep that flaming sword of yours polished, boyo.

Yours 4ever & ever & ever,

Your pal,

Bubbie

Mosquito

Photo by James Gathany via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library; found on Wikipedia

As a straight guy of a certain age (SGOACA), I’ve long been aware of a central fact of male aging: We become invisible to young women. This week, on vacation in Mosquitoland USA, I’ve discovered what appears to be a corollary: Female mosquitoes, the only ones who suck blood, are also no longer drawn to me.

While I sit here totally unaffected by the insect population, all the others in my family are getting eaten alive. My companions have slathered on multiple types of bug lotion, applied half a dozen sprays, including those with extra-strength DEET, added citronella bracelets and ankle bands, and still they suffer big itchy welts on arms, necks, elbows, even the crown of the head. I have used no repellent at all except coffee breath and my natural blandness.

Oh god, does this mean that we SGOACAs are unattractive to females of ALL species? Turtles? Hamsters?

There goes my dream of romance with a shapely porpoise.

Wait, though, there’s another possibility, less devastating to the male ego. Maybe the corporate plutocrats deliberately make bug sprays and lotions ineffective so the deluded public will use gallons of the stuff and then buy more. In fact, come to think of it, these products must contain a secret ingredient that attracts mosquitoes, black flies and other nemeses. Why else would the bugs ignore me and swarm round those covered with so-called repellent?

I’m going to write to Donald Trump about this. I hear he may be running out of his own conspiracy theories.

Tzapping the Borders

August 31, 2015

I’ve never before used this blog to endorse a commercial product—other than my own books, of course—but a special case has arisen concerning the very integrity of our country, and I feel I must alert my fellow Americans to what I’ve discovered.

We’ve all listened to the proposals from presidential candidates to build a wall along the Mexican border to stem illegal immigration, and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has logically extended the proposal to the Canadian line as well. There is nothing hysterical or paranoid about these concerns. Just pause a moment to think what would become of this country if we allowed the Mexican-Canadian rapist-murdering-drug-dealers to steal the lawn-care jobs of American workers!

There is a major problem, however, that none of the candidates has addressed. The barriers would be enormously expensive to construct, possibly requiring a rise in taxes that no patriotic American would support. (Those who suggest that cinder block and labor could be imported cheaply from Mexico miss the point entirely.)

Moreover, the Great Wall advocates have overlooked thousands of miles of other entry points: the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Who knows when Mediterranean people-smugglers will invest in better boats so they can drop off Syrian refugees on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City? There’s also the possibility, remote at this time but certainly a concern for the future, that alien shark-creatures might swarm ashore and apply for work cooking fish fillets at McDonald’s. And what about mutant penguins? Has anyone considered the mutant penguins?

Thus it’s apparent that the political debate has been riddled with gaps in logic as huge as the holes in Carly Fiorina’s resume. Luckily, technology—American technology, best in the world!—can again save our butts as well as our souls. A leading innovator in the security industry, Pharr Integrated Security Solutions of southern Texas, is now marketing the Tzapp Total Border System, and this is the product I’m compelled to tell you about.

Based on the groundbreaking work of legendary physicist Seymour Tzapp, the laser-based system is both efficient and economical. One relatively inexpensive laser weapon, adjusted properly, can protect 425 miles of border or coastline; hence a complete system would cost a fraction of a Great Wall.

One unit of the Tzapp Total BS system

One unit of the Tzapp Total BS

How does it work? When any object larger than a hare begins to move across the secured line, the Tzapp Total BS delivers a pulsed, narrow-beam wallop strong enough to enforce immediate retreat. In tests conducted in the Rio Grande Valley, the system has scattered deer, terrified ocelots and caused skunks to spray themselves uncontrollably. The Texas tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri), once Tzapped, has been timed at 30 mph, outrunning a raccoon.

One additional feature: The Total BS leaves a prominent raised scar, curved like a Nike swoosh in bright orange. This will prove as embarrassing to a Mexo-Canadian rapist-murderer as to a nefarious opossum, and a single Tzapp will be enough to discourage future transgressions, especially if the lasers are aimed to strike a delicate part of the anatomy. During the beta test, the tortoise was so mortified he never came out of his shell again.

I would supply a link to further information about the Tzapp system, but in its haste to bring this amazing product to the American public, the company has not yet developed an online presence. However, all interested parties—politicians, military officers, gun freaks and ordinary citizens—are invited to visit corporate headquarters in Pharr, a lovely community just a few miles from the McAllen Miller International Airport. Although it’s a small and unprepossessing city, you can’t miss the signal that you’ve arrived: a sign at the border tells you that you’ve gone to Pharr.

Togetherness

December 22, 2014

DogsOnLapThis holiday season I’ve been looking forward to relaxing in bed. Instead, I’ve become popular AS a bed.

This post is dedicated to all who experience the fine line between family togetherness and too much togetherness.

Would anyone like to borrow a dog?